Militarization of Police

Georgia Senate Committee Passes No-Knock Bill That Does….What, Exactly?

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The state senate's judiciary committee recently passed a bill in response to the Kathryn Johnston shooting that would…

…require officers who want to use so-called "no-knock" search warrants to go to a judge and prove that there is probable cause to believe that the officers' lives would be in danger if they knocked first, or that there is probable cause to believe that evidence inside the home would be destroyed—such as drugs being flushed down a toilet—if they knocked first.

"For the government to go into your house, they ought to be held to a higher standard," Fort said. "To go into your house without knocking, they ought to be held to a real high standard."

While I suppose it's a good sign that Georgia's lawmakers want to do something, this bill would change almost nothing. It would basically mean police officers in Georgia would have to comply with the bare minimum standards for a no-knock entry laid out by the Supreme Court in Wilson v. Arkansas. That opinion required police to knock and announce before entering a home unless they could show that the suspect presented a threat to the safety of police officers or there existed the possibility that the suspect could dispose of evidence. In other words, this bill would force Georgia to comply with the minimal constitutional protections the state should have been following for 14 years.

Moreover, it's unlikely that this would have even prevented the incident it's responding to. While the warrant itself in the Johnston case authorized a no-knock raid, the officers who conducted the raid claimed they announced first (though just about anything these particular cops said at this point is suspect).

The difference between a "no-knock" and a "knock-and-announce" raid is basically moot for the people inside the house. I've talked to police who say they wait little to no time at all between announcement and entry. If you're asleep, in a room away from the door, or hard of hearing, the difference between the two is further obscured. Keep in mind, the whole purpose of a SWAT-style raid is to catch the suspect by surprise. That's why so many of these raids are conducted at night. A full-throated announcement with sufficient wait time for the suspect to come to the door defeats the entire purpose of catching said suspect off-guard.

The real issue here is forced entry, and the use of forced entry tactics to serve warrants for nonviolent crimes. If the Georgia legislature is serious about preventing more botched raids, they'll strictly limit the number of situations in which police can break into someone's home to serve a warrant. These tactics should be limited to only the most severe situations, when a suspect presents an immediate threat to the safety of others—think hostage takings, violent fugitives, or shootings. So long as the law allows cops to kick down doors in pursuit of neighborhood dope slingers, we'll continue to have more Kathryn Johnstons. As there have been.

The sad thing is, meager as this particular bill may be, it's the second time Georgia has tried to pass it. The original bill died last year. Even after an event as appalling and high-profile as the Johnston shooting, the state can't even bring itself to pass a paltry effort at reform.

MORE:  Per the comments section, the bill does apparently increase the standard to obtain a no-knock from "reasonable suspicion" in Wilson to "probable cause" that the suspect might be dangerous or dispose of evidence.  In that sense, it is a bit of an improvement.  But police can still get a knock-and-announce warrant on the old standard, then merely force entry by merely announcing quietly, or at night when occupants aren't likely to hear them.  As the sponsor of the bill himself says in the article, the state forcing its way into people's homes is the problem, here.  Whether the police observe the formality of a cursory announcement first is beside the point.  To be effective new standard should apply any time police are forcing their way into someone's home.

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  1. Same as it ever was…

  2. I love my home state. Not only did it murder Kathryn Johnston, but it is unable to reform.

    We need a state-by-state rEVOLution.

  3. This reminds me of those states that passed bills in the wake of Kelo saying, private land can only be taken for a public use, without defining public use.

  4. >though just about anything these
    >particular cops said at this point
    >is suspect

    It’s getting beyond the “these particular” stage these days with all the testilying officers have done to cover up for this BS…
    JMR

  5. If the Georgia legislature is serious about preventing more botched raids

    I think we’ve found the root of the problem.

  6. I’m sounding like a broken record cause I post the same comment on Balko’s posts so often, but:

    NWA said it best.

    Oh and good work on your coverage of all of this, Mr. Balko.

  7. “For the government to go into your house, they ought to be held to a higher standard,” Fort said. “To go into your house without knocking, they ought to be held to a real high standard.”

    A real high standard, like:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    No, it’ll be the same as it ever was.

  8. You’re mistaken. The Georgia Bill does not just codify the Constitutional standard for no-knock warrants. The Supreme Court held that police must show “reasonable grounds” for a no-knock to issue. The Georgia bill heightened the showing to “probable cause.” Outside of legal circles, this probably doesn’t sound like much of a difference. But police in Georgia will now have to show a lot more evidence in order to get a no-knock warrant. For example, before, they would have just had to show that they had a hunch that evidence would be destroyed. Now they will have to show actual evidence that the resident of the home is likely to destroy evidence. This will actually make a significant difference in practice, because it will require the police to do extra work in order to get a no-knock. That will deter police from getting them in some cases, and in others, it will make them do additional investigating that could lead to lower incidences of erroneous or wrong-address raids. The Georgia law isn’t a complete fix, but it will be a significant improvement if it passes.

  9. Point taken on the higher standard, though do you really think judges will take the time to uphold it?

    And still, the Johnston case was a knock-and-announce. The problem here is forced entry, not whether police whisper before forcing open a door.

    Will the bill require the higher standard for all forced-entry warrant service, or just for no-knocks?

  10. The Georgia bill heightened the showing to “probable cause.” Outside of legal circles, this probably doesn’t sound like much of a difference.

    They have to have “probable cause” that the evidence exists in order to get any sort of search warrant in the first place. If they already have probable cause that the evidence is there, do they really need to add anything to show that destruction of the evidence is a possiblity?

  11. But police in Georgia will now have to show a lot more evidence in order to get a no-knock warrant.

    I doubt the rubber stamping of warrants by the judiciary will change one bit. I don’t think that the judge who approved the Kathryn Johnston warrant, even read it. It’s just mundane paperwork to get out of her in-basket in the morning.

  12. Georgia Senate Committee Passes No-Knock Bill That Does….What, Exactly?

    It makes it appear as though the Georgia senate committee members care, though they don’t, and that they are taking action on this important issue, though they aren’t, so that they can campaign on their accomplishments, though there weren’t any, so that they can be reelected to continue to do nothing worthwhile.

  13. Well, this is coming from my experience as a prosecutor in Georgia. The “reasonable grounds” vs. “probable cause” distinction is very well-established in search and seizure law, and I can’t imagine judges (at least the judges I’ve known) simply ignoring the change from one to the other. Enacting this bill would heighten the scrutiny given to no-knock requests, which is a step in the right direction. The fact of the matter is, in Georgia, no bill that makes sweeping changes to law enforcement procedure is going to pass the legislature. Period. So whatever reform there is will be incremental. If even this bill passes, it will be a major accomplishment. And I would expect the legislators who introduced it to continue introducing more bills that make incremental reforms.

  14. I don’t the problem is lazy judges, so much as what Dave W. pointed out. Existence of evidence + People don’t like to go to jail = probable cause that evidence will be destroyed.

  15. The “reasonable grounds” vs. “probable cause” distinction is very well-established in search and seizure law, and I can’t imagine judges (at least the judges I’ve known) simply ignoring the change from one to the other.

    C’mon, how often does a judge deny a warrant because he’s not satisfied with the evidence behind the request?

  16. C’mon, how often does a judge deny a warrant because he’s not satisfied with the evidence behind the request?

    Man bites dog often?

  17. C’mon, how often does a judge deny a warrant because he’s not satisfied with the evidence behind the request?

    My (purely anecdotal) observation is that judges are completely deferential to law enforcement when granting search warrants.

    I have had an attorney tell me that they tend to prefer to err on the side of the police believing that the trial judge can decide if there were really grounds for issuing said warrant.

  18. Couldn’t the legislature at least require that a judge actually sign the f’n warrant and not just use a rubber stamp? [As I recall, the Johnston warrant WAS a stamped signature.]

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